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The Introduction begins by laying out its stall: Infinity is an epic science-fiction game. Humanity has escaped its home solar system and reached for the stars and scattered through the galaxy... but finds itself in a fragile state as it has fractured into many factions that are maintaining an uneasy peace after past wars, but underneath that peace covert operations and even the odd brawl still occur. There's a dizzying array of technological marvels allowing continuous contact, augmented reality and simultaneous physical and digital interactions driven by bioengineering and cybertechnology. The game is adventure on the edge of space, often the edge of what's possible. True AI is just beginning... and then an alien Combined Army threatens everything humanity has worked to achieve!
It's all very exciting, with wormhole technology being used to cross interstellar distances and discover a whole bunch of habitable worlds... and novel resources such as a strange metallic substance that now lies at the heart of nanotechnology and viable quantum computing. These and many more wonders are described in a dizzying outpouring that describes the worlds of the future, setting the scene in which the game is played. It then moves on to the timeline, explaining how this wonderful future developed. It makes for fascinating reading, and is well rooted in human behaviour, drawing on history to imagine future conflicts. Superpowers, gang wars, religious disputes... Earth seemed on the brink of destruction - a very good time to think of expanding towards the stars. There's masses of information here to help you get the feel of the universe your characters will inhabit.
The Introduction ends with a discussion of the sort of campaigns and adventures you might play. The default is that the party are agents of Bureau Noir, the 'secret service' of an international pan-stellar organisation called O-12 whose mission is to keep the peace amongst all the factions of humanity. Just to keep things interesting, individual party members may also have allegience to one of the factions, undertaking errands (often secretly) alongside the missions they are tasked with by O-12. Naturally if that doesn't appeal to your group, a setting as rich and diverse as this one presents plenty of opportunities for adventure - exploring, trading, or working for a faction furthering its aims.
Next is a summary of how the rules of the game work. If you are already familiar with the Modiphius 'house' system 2D20, this will be straightforward, but it is an easy system to pick up even if you are new to it. Of particular note - and key to the cinematic quality of the game - is Heat and Momentum. Momentum is defined as 'success building on success' - every time you roll more than you need for success in task resolution, you can gain Momentum points to apply to a later die roll of your choice. Heat is the other side, it's the points the GM accumulates when things go astray and uses to make life even more difficult for the party. If a player doesn't have Momentum when they feel the need to use it, they can give the GM Heat points to get some... It's a neat system mechanically and although it may sound a bit clunky and intrusive, once the group has got used to it, it will run in the background - just get a fistfull of little counters to help keep track! That's standard to the 2D20 system, but in this game there are also Infinity Points which are gained by using character traits in some dramatic manner or as rewards for outstanding role-playing and which may be used in a variety of ways to shape things to your own ends mechanically.
We then move on to Part 1: Characters, looking at the lifepath system used in character generation. This system begins with the character's birth and tracks through what happens to them right up to when play begins. Mechanically, there are nine Decision Points that shape his life - but you have five 'Life Points' to guide him through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. You end up with a personal background that - like your own - is shaped partly by chance and partly by the decisions that you make. It all begins with determining initial abilities, then the faction and planet where you were born, and your family's status there. After a 'youth event' you gain an education, go through an 'adolescent event' and go through one to three career phases, before putting the finishing touches to your career. There are random tables for each of these, but you may use your Life Points to make choices for some of them - with five Life Points and nine Decision Points you won't be able to choose everything, so decide what's vital to the character you want. An elegant system which can provide hours of endless fun... a good idea, as you don't knock out characters that quickly with such a system, so have a few in your folder ready just in case you need one mid-game!
Loads of detail about each stage is provide to help you understand everything you need to know. All through this process, you gain skills and traits just as in any character generation process. Some you choose specifically, others come associated with the choices you make or what life throws at you. There is also an alternative point-buy system which, with the GM's permission, you can use to custom-design a character without any random elements. Nice if you have a very detailed character concept in mind, but the random element does make for a more interesting character! Just reading through all the tables spawns many ideas for characters... and should give the GM plenty of plot material for when your past catches up with you! This is followed by details of how to improve a character and extensive notes on all the skills available.
Next, Part 2: Action Scenes provides information and game mechanics to aid in the running of action scenes that bring the excitement to every adventure. Combat scenes combine actual physical brawling with 'infowar' and 'psychowar' elements in a flexible and powerful system. Ultimately, though, a combat comes in rounds during which characters take actions in initiative order - but there's a dizzying array of actions that can be taken. It will take a while to become accustomed to all of them but as you do it makes for a rich combat experience. There's plenty more than brawling, though - this section looks at intrusion, hacking, research, social interaction, and many other areas you might not at first think of when someone says 'action'! This section ends with notes on vehicles and their uses.
Moving on, we come to Part 3: The Human Sphere. This contains information on life in the Human Sphere - the area of space explored and settled by human beings - including a gazeteer and masses of information that characters will have grown up with, but which are novel to their players. Of particular note is 'Maya' - the development of the Internet into something vastly superior and immersive - and the concept of a personal area network that seamlessly links each individual with their devices and the wider world (now you see why infowar features in combat!). People can literally interact both socially and digitally at the same time, without even, for example, getting your phone out to show someone a photo... it's just there, in augmented reality. An application called a geist provides personal concierge services, arranging your life seamlessly and maintaining order in the wealth of images and sensations flying around, while memories are recorded in a Cube which can enable resurrection after death. Interstellar travel, popular sports, the factions and all the worlds you can visit are also detailed here, a vast wealth of information that brings this rich setting to vivid life. The section ends with what has so far been discovered about the Tohaa, an alien race that has approached the Human Sphere with the offer of an alliance against the Combined Army.
Part 4: Gear completes the 'player' section with reams of detail about the weapons, armour and equipment available. Personal electronics, enhancements, lifestyle, services, travel and even resurrection are all covered here with details of how they work in terms of game mechanics as well as from the standpoint of role-playing a character using them.
Now, GM territory looms, with the final section Part 5: Gamemaster. It begins with notes on running the game, ranging from general tips that will help you become a better GM overall to material specific to the Infinity RPG. There's plenty of detail on adversaries, including how to create them from the bottom up and how to deploy them to best effect, with plenty of example NPCs (not necessarily adversaries, they might be friendly and helpful, or just chance encounters) and not forgetting aliens and creatures that may also be encountered. You might wonder at the lack of an introductory adventure, but with over 500 pages already filled there isn't room... but you get a free PDF adventure called Quadronic Heat - also available separately and I'll review it shortly - to download when you buy the core rules.
This game comes ready-packed with an immense rich setting as well as an exceptional character generation system and endless possibilities when it comes to what the characters can actually do... a mature and elegant game that should keep gamers happy for years to come.
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I was playing in a game where Amit Moshe (City of Mists) was running us through a noir based supernatural game. As our characters were running around, using our powers to chase down a cult, and playing a generally narrative based game, Amit said something that solidified a bunch of nebulous thoughts I’d had about how to narrate things as a Game Master. Amit said “And now let’s direct the camera out from our current group, up over the rooftops of the misty city, and back down on the cultists at the old church…”.
Direct The Camera struck me in my brainpain and put a nice bow on a lot of narrative concepts I’ve worked with. I have a background in video production, at one point in time in my life having worked on audio and video production for sports, PBS stations, and corporate video, as well as my own projects. A lot of the similarities in putting together a dynamic and ever changing story that I love about gaming dovetail into what I love about movies and TV as a medium for telling a story with many avenues that information can be delivered. When Amit called out Directing The Camera, I realized how much I GMed in that style already – describing what might be seen by a viewer watching the TV show of the game I was running, putting together basic animations to start off campaigns, thinking of sessions as episodes in a story arc, etc. I’ve written many articles about it and even 1/3 of a book with a theme of a movie studio (Focal Point) to codify the GMing advice.Looking Behind The Curtain
Calling out the movie-themed nature of the narrtive was a totally different step into the meta sphere that I’d never really considered taking, but in retrospect I realized how incredibly useful solidyfing that experience for the players can be. In many ways, the group at the table is the audience for the story they are telling, but their experience is of the actors and people pushing the story along. In a game that relies heavily on rails and structure, the group may be feeling much like the audience, feeding the machine with the proper actions to move it forwards, but in more open games the group feels their ability to modify the world first and often forgets that other things are going on around them. Directly calling out the “Camera” moves them temporarily into the audience perspective and directs their attention to the action in a way they may not have considered.
Moving the camera is as simple as saying that you are doing it. When you would otherwise describe that “the plasma blasts come flying through the air, impacting around you and leaving scorch marks on the metal walls”, imagine the epic way this would look if it were a movie, and call out the camera, like so:
“The guards blaster fires, and the camera swings away from you to the guards face, his eyes squint as he aims, the camera moves to the barrel of the gun with the light and plasma blast escaping from the end in slow motion. Fire flares out the exhaust vents on the side and the oval of light and sun-hot fire flies through the corridor in slow motion, moving past combatants, looking like it is standing still and the world is moving around it. As it reaches near you, the camera zooms out and the blast impacts in the wall right next to your head. Ok, what next.”
This narration, calling out the camera and taking the simple scenario and turning it into a cinematic moment, functions much like a cutscene in a video game would. Even if you don’t got into the same detail, the step aside from being actors in the action to being the audience creates a secondary perspective for the players, one of thinking of the action going on as a cinematic experience. They may already be imagining these incredible things in their head, but calling it out with a small bit of narration from the “camera’s” perspective, helps them do this alongside all of their thoughts about how to overcome the BBEG and when the pizza is going to arrive.A Little Goes A Long Way
The technique of Directing the Camera is something that has a deep impact, and works well when focusing on the actions of NPCs, the reactions to incredible moments, and when revealing some information to the players in a more interesting way that you want them to focus in on. It isn’t the sort of thing that you want to use for every narrative element in your game. Narrating every attack this way would quickly make it wearisome and time consuming, but doing the first attack of the epic combat, or using a quick camera narration for every third or fourth attack of the boss as it really pummels a character with multiple attacks really inceases the narrative tension and engagement.
Directing the Camera is realy just a recategorization of a narrative technique that a Game Master already does. We already narrate the events as if there is a camera on them. Whether that camera is our own mind’s eye, the eye of an invisible audience member, or the eyes of a bystander in the scene we are describing, calling out the camera makes it an agent and puts the players in dual places – one within the action and one watching it. It’s almost like grabbing the player’s head and making them see things from a certain perspective, just without any physical assault at the game table.
What narrative techniques do you use to control the player’s perception? Have you found that breaking the 4th wall in this way increases or decreases immersion? Did you have a eureka moment like I did when Amit used the phrase in his game?